2020 Team Preview: Can Vanderbilt Avoid The SEC East Basement?
The Vanderbilt Commodores were just 3-9 last season. They are going to have a tough time making a meaningful improvement on that record this season, given all the challenges and limitations they are facing. Can Vanderbilt pull a modest surprise in 2020? Maybe the pandemic’s effects on other SEC East programs will be more substantial than anything the Commodores have experienced over the past several months.
The Commodores and head coach Derek Mason made huge changes to their coaching staff. Mason hired two brand-new coordinators: Todd Fitch on offense and Ted Roof on defense. He also hired four other new assistant coaches, proof of a program in search of a winning formula. Big changes don’t get made if a program is heading in the right direction. Mason is on the hot seat, and he knew that keeping his 2019 coaching staff intact for 2020 was simply not acceptable.
The Commodores lose a number of skill-position players this season: The best one is running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who was a strong running back and a speedy receiver out of the backfield. Wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney were also significant cogs in the 2019 Vanderbilt offense. They’re not coming back in 2020.
Vanderbilt will have a new quarterback this season. Texas high school recruit Ken Seals beat out Jeremy Moussa for the starting job. The Commodores will ride with a freshman who will experience a baptism by fire. Safety Donovan Kaufman is a notable newcomer for the Vanderbilt defense.
The Commodores Will Succeed If…
They can develop a running game. Given that Vanderbilt is inexperienced at quarterback, a decent running game is essential to the success of the offense. Vanderbilt has to be able to face second down and six instead of second and nine. It has to create third down and short situations instead of third and long. A young, untested quarterback won’t be able to hold up if the Dores face predictable passing downs on a regular basis. The offense isn’t expected to be brilliant this season, so Vanderbilt at least has to be able to control the ball and keep it away from opposing teams. Running the ball is precisely what facilitates a ball control offense which can play keep-away and prevent the opposing offense from being on the field too long.
The Commodores Will Fail If…
They can’t stop the run. The defense has to find ways to get three-and-out possessions so that it doesn’t stay on the field any longer than necessary. The offense isn’t going to carry the workload for this team; head coach Derek Mason focuses on defense, and that needs to be the core strength of this roster. If Vanderbilt’s defense can prevent opposing offenses from establishing the run, it can limit an opponent’s time of possession and stay fresh – in individual games, yes, but also over the long run of the full season.
The Commodores play LSU and Texas A&M outside of the SEC East. It is going to be hard for this team to find good win chances. Mississippi State and Missouri are the two most realistic opportunities. Vanderbilt will find it hard to do anything better than 2-8 in the SEC. A 3-7 record might be the ceiling for this team.
Prediction: 7th (last) in SEC East